GOP's New Orleans Meeting Sends Mixed Signals

Texas Gov. Rick Perry at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, Saturday, June 18, 2011. i i

Texas Gov. Rick Perry at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, Saturday, June 18, 2011. Patrick Semansky/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Patrick Semansky/AP
Texas Gov. Rick Perry at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, Saturday, June 18, 2011.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, Saturday, June 18, 2011.

Patrick Semansky/AP

There's no question that Gov. Rick Perry of Texas can rally the Republican Party's activist base.

He did it again at the Republican Leadership Conference gathering in New Orleans over the weekend, delivering the rousing rhetorical smackdown of President Obama he's quite skilled at.

Speaking of Obama, Perry indulged in the kind of hyperbole that's typical of hyperpartisan events on the political right or left that never fails to excite party hardliners.

"Unfortunately, this administration in Washington that's in power now clearly believes that government is not only the answer to every need but that it's qualified to make essential decisions for every American in every area.

That mix of arrogance and audacity that guides the Obama administration is an affront to every freedom lovin' American and a threat to every private sector job in this country."

Not surprisingly, by most reports, the audience responded well to Perry. It was much more his kind of crowd, and Rep. Michele Bachmann's, and Rep. Ron Paul's than it was Mitt Romney's. Which explains why the frontrunner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination skipped the meeting.

News accounts say that during and after Perry's speech, some members of the audience shouted "Run, Rick, Run," demonstrating the desire among some Republicans for alternatives to the current candidates. Judging by the audience reaction, Perry and Bachmann were clearly the life of the party, at least that segment of the party represented in New Orleans.

Given all this, you would have thought Perry would've won the conference's presidential candidate straw poll. But he didn't. Actually, he didn't participate in it.

So Paul, the libertarian lion, won the straw poll. And in a result that looks pretty weird at first blush, Jon Huntsman, came in second.

How could the same attendees who embraced Perry and Bachmann give Huntsman a second place finish? Talk about your mixed signals.

The former Utah governor, who is seen by many in his party as a more moderate conservative than many of the people who attended the conference, apparently benefited, like Paul, from good organizing for the straw poll.

While the conference was one more chance for the candidates who attended to rehearse their stump speeches and for activists and political operatives to network, its importance is probably limited to that.

Again, if it were really considered vital to getting the nomination, Romney and Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor, would have been there.

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